Good news: we did the math so you don’t have to!
If you’re touring a new barn or watching a classic equestrian movie, you may see a horse moving around an enclosed circle with a person standing in the middle. These round pens are essential for training and can be found at both western and english barns.
Understanding the importance of a round pen and how to measure them can be beneficial to your development as a horse person. After all, if you have access to a training tool, you should know how to safely use it. Keep reading for round pen math and help with basic calculations needed to build your own round pen with at least nine 10-foot panels or eight 12-foot panels.
Round Pen Basics
Round pens can be made of different materials, but the most common are pipe panels (sometimes called livestock panels) or wood. The minimum diameter you should consider is 30 feet and round pens max out at approximately 100 feet in diameter.
Round pens may be see-through or solid. Solid round pens are more expensive, but eliminate more distractions and are especially helpful for young horses or those in training.
Before we go into measurement specifics let’s go through a little math refresher:
- Diameter = If you ran a straight line through the middle of a circle the length of that line would be the diameter. It is the width of the circle.
- Circumference = The diameter of the circle times Pi (3.14) gets you the total measurement for the outside of the circle.
What is a round pen?
A round pen is a training tool that is used across all disciplines. This large circle eliminates corners and creates an intimate space for training with your horse.
The best part is that it minimizes distractions (especially pens with solid walls) which allows your horse to focus on you and the task at hand.
You often see round pens used for ground manners and horsemanship as it provides the space for the horse to listen and respond.
What is the purpose of a round pen for horses?
Traditionally, round pens are used in the training process for young or unbroke horses. They were initially created to aid the Vaqueros who were working with untamed horses. Round pens have a strong tie to Spanish horsemanship.
When a horse is in the round pen, they are able to mimic the movements of being on a lunge line—generally without the added complexity of a long rope to manage.
Due to the smaller enclosed space (as opposed to an arena) the person on the ground has the ability to interact more with the horse.
If you are using a round pen for the training of unbroke or green horses, it is recommended your fence panels are six feet high to discourage the horse from jumping out. If you are using it for training or riding, then a five foot height would be recommended.
Round Pen Uses
You can use a round pen for training young horses, doing liberty work, working on ground manners, or even for teaching young beginner riders who do not have full control of the horse yet.
Some round pens are solid and made of wood—these also are often called Bull Pens. The solid walls can eliminate distractions. Other round pens are made of metal pipe, which can create a sense of openness and help a horse feel less claustrophobic.
Just a note: if you buy a piped metal panel, you want to make sure that you buy square ended panels. A curved end will create a V and that could allow a horse to get their hoof stuck or it could potentially catch/snag tack.
This picture shows square-ended panels!
Do horses need a round pen?
Horses do not need a round pen, but it is beneficial for their training and even exercise.
You can use a small round pen for horses who are being turned out for the first time after stall rest.
Because it is a smaller enclosure than regular turnout paddocks, it limits movement and can help prevent further injury.
How long should you exercise a horse in a round pen?
It depends on where the horse is at in their training. Horse Illustrated recommends around ten minutes for green or young horses. You don’t want to overload their baby brains!
If a horse is a steady eddy/been there done that kind of horse, you could work for up to 30 minutes, but make sure you don’t go the same direction the whole time.
And another reminder, you shouldn’t use a round pen for your sole source of training aids.
Round Pen Math
Remember when you were in geometry, doodling dapple grays in the margins on your notes, wondering when you’d ever use this information again?
Well, your math teacher is smiling from their classroom because it’s going to take *math* and *calculations* to know how many panels you would need to buy to create a certain sized round pen.
How do you measure a round pen?
Remember, Pi? That neverending number you had to memorize in high school, but also got to celebrate on March 14th with actual pie? You need to remember 3.14 (Pi) because it is an important factor in measuring a round pen.
To know how big around your round pen should be, you will measure the diameter (straight line across the middle) and multiply that by Pi.
50 foot diameter x 3.14 = 157 feet
How many panels do you need for a round pen?
Round pen panels come in various lengths, but the most common are 10 and 12 foot panels.
At minimum, you will need at least nine 10 foot panels, or eight 12 foot panels.
Is there a calculator for round pen sizes?
Though there isn’t a calculator online, many companies have a quick reference guide on their websites. The Alligator Brand calculator is my favorite.
You can also visit the Arena Sand Calculator from Performance Footing to see how much you’ll need.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How many 12 foot panels do you need for a 50 ft round pen?
You will need 13 panels.
Q: How many 12 foot panels do you need for a 60 ft round pen?
You will need 16 panels.
Q: How many 10 foot panels do you need for a 60 ft round pen?
You will need 19 panels.
Q: How many panels do you need for a 40 ft round pen?
You will need 13 10 foot panels, or 10 12 foot panels, for a 40 foot round pen.
Q: How many panels do you need for a 60 ft round pen?
You will need 19 10 foot panels, or 16 12 foot panels, for a 60ft round pen.
Q: How do you build a round pen for horses?
The experts at Performance Footing have a great article about how to build a round pen if you’d like to learn more.
Now that you know how to calculate the size and know the recommended heights, you will be able to create your own round pen for training!
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